Forrest Gander

2019 Pulitzer Prize

Pulitzer Prize Nominated Books Reviewed by Troy Jollimore for The Washington Post Book World

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This year’s other Pulitzer finalist, Forrest Gander’s Core Samples From the World (New Directions, $15.95), is more radical, and it will strike many readers as the most forbidding of the three. It may also, in the long run, prove to be the richest. “Core Samples” presents four travel journals written as haibun, a Japanese form that alternates prose with haiku. These journals, which describe the poet’s travels in China, Mexico, Bosnia and Chile, are separated by poems written in a dense, dreamlike vernacular. The book is intelligently enhanced by the inclusion of striking photographs by Raymond Meeks, Graciela Iturbide and Lucas Foglia. The correspondences between these elements make for a complex reading experience punctuated by moments of intense beauty: “The world shifts / on a hairline crack. All last summer / you and I met for lunch in a clearing / we didn’t know the locals call / The Girl’s Grave.” Death again. But what really haunts Gander, who is a translator as well as a poet, isn’t so much death as the complexities of life: the frequently unknown stories that lie beneath and within the stories we tell. When he writes, “She too awakens the unknown inside him,” this reader, at least, can hardly resist the temptation to think that “she” is poetry itself.